My game is from the dark days of 2009, the nadir of Nats history. I didn’t know it at the time, but the game also had hints of the better days to come. It was a night game in late September, the middle game of three between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Nationals. Nats Park was a lonely place that night. Those were the days when I could and did bring needle and thread to the park to hand sew binding on a quilt. I had good light and room to spread out. On the night in question, my sister and I were virtually alone in section 417. An usher invited us to move to section 320. Section 320 was pretty empty as well, but there was a woman sitting nearby who looked somewhat familiar. I couldn’t figure out why.
The Dodgers scored single runs in the first, fourth and sixth innings, while the Nats were held scoreless and hitless through five. But then Ryan Zimmerman came to the plate in the bottom of the sixth with two men on base. Home run! Just like that, the game was tied and Zim’s RBI total on the season reached 100 with that clout.
Soon after, the mystery of the familiar-looking woman was solved. I had gone to the restroom or to a concession stand. On my way back to my seat, I ran into a colleague from NASA, walking in the same direction I was. He walked with me all the way back to where we were sitting. The woman who looked so familiar was his wife, who I’d met once or twice. They were at the game with one of their two sons.
The game was tied 3-3 going into the eighth inning. Former Oriole George Sherrill pitched that inning for the Dodgers. The Nats hit two singles to start the inning and took the lead on an Elijah Dukes groundout that scored Cristian Guzman. Then came a very 2009 Nats top of the ninth. They committed two errors, allowing the Dodgers to tie. Boy oh boy, was there muttering and yelling in our little part of section 320. It took three Nats relievers to get out of the inning — Mike MacDougal, Sean Burnett and Saul Rivera. Luckily, an inning of unexpected baseball competence followed. Justin Maxwell led off with a single, was sacrificed to second, stole third, and scored on a Pete Orr sac fly. Saul Rivera got the win.
Why did I choose this game? It was a win, for one thing, amazing in itself at that time. This game encapsulates Nats fandom of the early years -- lots of bad and weird with occasional joy. I witnessed amazing events like the Nats losing when a runner was tagged out wandering off second as well as an Elijah Dukes walk-off walk against the Braves. The game I chose had players identified with the futility, like Alberto Gonzalez, Jason Bergmann, Jorge Padilla and it had bright spots, like Adam Dunn with 38 home runs and 105 RBI that year and Zim in his All-Star, Gold Glove and Sliver Slugger year. It also had emerging pieces of the 2012 championship team — Ross Detwiler started, Ian Desmond and Michael Morse pinch hit and Tyler Clippard pitched the seventh inning.
But the real reason is that during that game we found a new summer family. Our section mates in section 320 were part of a partial plan season ticket group. My NASA colleague and his wife were the only members I already knew, and my sister didn’t even know them. We got a bunch of new friends. The following year, we all moved as a group to section 315, where we've been ever since. We’ve cheered together (but only one of us could belt out a good GOOOZ), groaned together, argued about Jayson Werth and Ian Desmond, shared peanuts in the stands and enjoyed pre-game hot dogs and chili in the upper deck picnic area. We get together in the off season for our Annual Hot Stove Party and other events. We’ve shared life experiences with each other, from seeing kids off to college to retirement and birth of grandchildren to divorce and re-marriage.
That game was the start of my belonging to a baseball family. More recently, as I've met more and more Nats fans, in person and on social media, my baseball family is growing into a community.